Universal // 2006 // 934 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // February 17th, 2009
The Franchise That Never Dies offers up another season of its sexually based offence drama, Law & Order: SVU. If I were a hooker, I'd be getting real nervous about now. It's like wearing a red shirt in Star Trek.
New York City's Special Victims Unit (SVU) is tasked with investigating the most heinous of sexually based criminals -- pedophiles, rapists, molesters, and worse. Detectives Stabler (Christopher Meloni, Oz) and Benson (Mariska Hargitay, Lake Placid) pound the streets, while Munch (Richard Belzer, Homicide: Life on the Street) and Tutuola (Ice-T, New Jack City) back them up. Captain Cragen (Dann Florek, Law & Order) works the office, while ADA Novak (Diane Neal) prosecutes the heck out of the offenders.
Joining the crew are medical investigator Dr. Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie), police psychologist Dr. George Huang (B.D. Wong), and Detective Dani Beck (Connie Nielsen) who partners up with Stabler during Benson's absence undercover with the FBI.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Eighth Year contains all 22 episodes from the eighth season:
Benson pressures a rape victim to submit to a rape kit, but the woman refuses to comply. After stealing her underwear (creepy, Olivia) and returning to the woman's apartment, she runs into an old "friend," undercover FBI Agent Dana Lewis (Marcia Gay Harden). The woman in question is an informant, and the two organizations must cooperate to locate her. Stabler gets wounded in the line of duty, promoting Benson to realize her relationship with her partner has gotten too personal, and requests reassignment.
Now Olivia-less, Stabler partners up with Tutuola to investigate a missing teenage boy and girl on a field trip at a local museum. On investigation, the case seems straightforward, until they realize the girl has some unique medical issues. Stabler meets his new partner, Detective Dani Beck (Connie Nielsen).
For Stabler to describe his new partner as "overzealous," you know she's got to be nuts. Beck's controversial reputation and investigative techniques come under scrutiny during the investigation of a rape case where the charges keep slipping away.
Stabler and Beck investigate the rape and murder of a mother and daughter, and meet the Munch's homeless uncle (Jerry Lewis), who appears to be their prime suspect.
When a serial rapist emerges and attacks his victims again and again, Stabler and Beck argue over the best course of action. Worse, Beck gets herself set up as his next prospective victim.
Benson, undercover in Oregon to investigate an environmental group, runs afoul of a local sheriff and gets arrested. The authorities suspect her group is involved with a grisly murder; she sets out to solve the crime herself. Meanwhile, ADA Novak desperately tries to locate Benson to get her to come home to testify in a rape case.
Stabler and Beck investigate an underage prostitution ring, and try to get one of the young girls to testify against their pimp. Stabler and Beck explore the possibility of starting a relationship together, just in time for Benson to come back and catch wind of it.
Stabler and Beck investigate a car accident involving foster children that leads them to discover some disturbing therapeutic practices. Beck tries to help one of the foster children out, but gets more than she bargained for. Deciding she has had enough of SVU life, Beck takes her old job back.
A dead body shows up in Central Park, and Dr. Warner can find no apparent cause. Stabler interviews the victim's husband and his dance troupe, uncovering a complicated web of lies and deceptions. Benson returns to SVU and gets reassigned as Stabler's partner, leaving the two to sort out some complex emotions.
A dying man (Brian Dennehy) calls the police to offer a deathbed confession, but gets a surly and dismissive Stabler instead. Her partner remains unconvinced, but Benson does some digging into the man's history and uncovers a lifelong history of violent crime and an unsolved case fifty years old.
Benson and Stabler almost come to blows trying to make sense of a nasty rape case involving a husband and wife in the process of a child custody dispute. Unable to agree on anything, tensions run high.
A college rape puts Fin back in contact with his estranged son Ken (Ernest Waddell) and a Brooklyn SVU detective, Chester Lake (Adam Beach). Remember the face. You'll see this guy again.
A child pornography investigation unexpectedly leads SVU to the discovery of pesticide testing on human subjects without their knowledge or consent. Things get dangerous when Benson gets ill from exposure.
A teenager's wild night of drinking and partying leaves her unable to remember any details about the night her mother was brutally murdered. Her father, a mob lawyer, insists she was involved in the crime. Stabler finds himself on the wrong end of the handcuffs after a witness dies while in custody.
A reporter incorrectly accuses a recent mother of kidnapping and attempted murder, causing the distraught woman to kill herself. Whoops.
Benson takes a field trip and gets wrapped up investigating a rape case well outside her jurisdiction. She also makes some complicated discoveries about her own family history, after meeting her brother.
A murder case leads SVU to charge a popular preacher with the crime, but his wife comes forth with damning evidence to prove his innocence.
Benson and Stabler investigate a teenage death that unlocks a world of high school debauchery and drinking, as well as an overzealous parent who encourages some peculiar extracurricular activities.
Benson's brother becomes the target of an investigation, leading Benson to jeopardize her objectivity by getting involved. In doing so, she uncovers startling information about her family and her past.
A professional hit on a woman triggers the suspicions of SVU after her husband, a CIA agent starts receiving death threats. Investigating his past seems to turn up an awful lot of dead bodies.
After a teenage boy turns up dead wearing a leather mask, a video emerges showing the teen and his friends engaged in dangerous stunts gone wrong. The victim's girlfriend proves to be a point of suspicion -- her past is full of holes.
Darius Parker (Ludacris) finally receives his much-delayed trial after raping and murdering a woman and her child. Fin receives an uncomfortable amount of media attention exploring his family connections to the murderer. Practically the entire SVU team is forced to testify at trial, digging up unpleasant skeletons for all -- and some job security issues.
Another day, another dollar, another season of Law & Order: SVU to review on DVD. The police procedural and courtroom drama (for all its repetition) delivers consistently solid television viewing year after year, and Season Eight is no exception to the rule. Truth be told, there isn't a lot that distinguish the seasons beyond the occasional cast shakeup. Actress Mariska Hartigay takes a maternity leave in Season Eight, and the show writes her off by sending her undercover with the FBI, leaving a dejected Stabler to find a new partner in Detective Dani Beck. We also meet Chester Lake (Adam Beach), who joins the cast of SVU full time in Season Nine, but that's getting ahead of ourselves. Still, remember the face -- we'll be discussing him more next time we meet.
It is admittedly challenging to qualify seasons of Law & Order as "good" or "bad" since the show works so hard to remain non-serialized. Each episode stands along as its own story with little in the way of narrative ties drawing the viewer from season to season. As of late, SVU more than its sister shows has been working hard to develop some ongoing themes that run in tandem with the standalone adventures. Stabler's marital trouble last season has led to his current predicament of being separated and struggling with the hots for his partner, Benson. Once she reassigns herself to put some distance between them, he responds by getting the hots for his new partner, Beck (which thrills Olivia to no end). Hardly the stuff of Shakespearian pathos, but it's nice to see the show trying. I also appreciated the return of Ludacris returning in a rare moment of Law & Order continuity to tie up an errant plot line seasons back. Minor points all, but little victories are still victories.
This is definitely Benson's season to shine. Sure, Stabler gets some attention and some canoodling with his new partner and an attempted rekindling with his estranged wife, but Benson's background and family history are dissected with the arrival of her brother into the story. Benson, whose mother was raped, is forced to come to some unpleasant conclusions about her family history. Though often emotionally trying, it is excellent to see the show expand on the characters and their back history -- too often they are simply neglected on Law & Order as mere vessels who go out and arrest people, like Munch, possibly the most criminally underused character in the history of the show. He's one of the longest-running single characters currently on television, people! Give him something to do!
Standout episodes this time on the criminal merry-go-round include "Cage," an exploration of foster children and the creepy homes they can end up in, "Burned," an unexpectedly complex and morally ambiguous episode that pits Benson and Stabler against each other trying to determine guilt, "Loophole," a decisively Law & Order: Criminal Intent-style subject of complex USFDA rules and pesticide testing and of course, the finale episode "Screwed," which may be the most self-referential episode of Law & Order: SVU ever produced, tying up a good half-dozen storylines involving Benson's deadbeat half-brother, Stabler's estranged/non-estranged wife and his daughter's DUI and Fin's family ghosts. I wish the show did more of this kind of thing.
Season Eight also continues the fine tradition of cramming in as many guest stars as possible: Jerry Lewis, Bob Saget, Marcia Gay Harden, Bernadette Peters, Brian Dennehy, Ludacris, Cary Elwes, and veteran musical actress Leslie Caron (whose guest appearance landed her an Emmy) all make appearances here. Also, a bunch of murdered prostitutes -- did we mention that? Overall, a good season; not quite as strong as Season Seven, which really ratcheted up the intensity, but a satisfying run all the same. Especially "Screwed" -- we need more episodes like this to keep the franchise viable.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is strong, featuring deep contrast and color saturation. Black levels are satisfyingly rich, with nary a scratch or mark to be seen. The 5.1 presentation features deep bass, clear dialogue, and great environmental effects. The mix is still primarily center-balanced, but the rear channels spring up during noisy sequences, especially on the streets of NYC. Unfortunately, as in the most recent DVD installments, we've pretty much given up on extras. There is none of any kind to be found here.
Another season of Law & Order on DVD, another inherent argument against purchasing it because of its fiendishly aggressive syndication on television -- you've heard it before, blah blah blah. What more can we say about this point? If you love the show, you'll buy it on DVD. If not, you'll be more than content to catch the reruns.
If you're this far along in the DVD collecting of Law & Order: SVU, this DVD should present no challenge to your plan, as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Eighth Year is virtually identical in form and function to previous offerings. Buy it, watch it, and love it -- but try to avoid the dirty looks from the prostitutes down by the Port Authority. They know what you watch. They know.
Review content copyright © 2009 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 934 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site